Two years after U.S. withdrawal, Afghan refugees wait for asylum


The Washington Post

For more than a week that August, the family hid in houses in Kabul, waiting for their chance to leave. On Aug. 25, 10 of them made it onto a flight out of the country, unsure of their destination. After a brief stopover in Qatar, they were told on their flight that they were going to the United States. They landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Aug. 29, 2021.

The day after they left Kabul, Mohibullah’s wife and four children were planning to board a plane. Farid’s mother and five of his siblings were supposed to come, too. But a suicide bombing at the airport killed about 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. The rest of the family never made their flights out.

“No one made that decision to emigrate,” Mohibullah said. “It was something [that] happened overnight. No one was thinking tomorrow he will be separated with his family and then he cannot see, or she cannot see her children or her parents.”

Now, two years later, the family remains thousands of miles apart. Mohibullah and Farid, along with their relatives who were with them, were granted two years of humanitarian parole to stay and work in the United States. In May this year, the Biden administration announced an application process for refugees to extend their parole two more years.

But the temporary nature of humanitarian parole means that the Nooris live in uncertainty about their future. Mohibullah and Farid applied for asylum more than a year ago but haven’t received an answer. And while they wait to hear if they’re approved, they say they can’t leave the United States to visit their family, who have since made it out of Afghanistan to another country.

U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services told The Washington Post they are working to expedite the 19,000 asylum applications from Afghan nationals who arrived as part of Operation Allies Welcome. USCIS said it is working diligently to complete the final adjudication within the time frame required by Congress — 150 days — although it says it may not be possible to meet that deadline.

In 2022, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced the Afghan Adjustment Act as a way to provide expanded visa access to Afghan refugees. It was blocked by Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Grassley cited concerns about the vetting process. Although the bill was reintroduced in July, it remains stalled.

“For the Afghans, there’s a lot of behind the scenes politics that prevent it from moving forward,” said Ali Karim, founder of the nonprofit Global Shout, which has been assisting some of the refugees with resettlement. “One time, they’d actually attached the Afghan Adjustment Act to a bill for Ukrainian spending. And it was removed from that bill after it had gotten forward almost to the approval stage. And then the Ukrainian spending bill went forward, but the Afghan Adjustment Act fell to the wayside.”

While they wait for some certainty about the future, Mohibullah and Farid have frequent video calls with their family members. Farid is engaged to a fiancé who is stuck overseas, waiting to be together so they can get married. Mohibullah’s children often ask when they will be reunited. They draw pictures for him and sing him songs. His youngest daughter was only about a month old when he left.

“Always they are asking why, when my father will come, when we will go to USA,” said Arifa Noori, Mohibullah’s wife.

“Whenever God is willing,” said Mohibullah.

Whitney Shefte is a Peabody, Emmy, Murrow and Pictures of the Year International (POYi) award-winning senior video journalist at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2006.
Two years after U.S. withdrawal, Afghan refugees wait for asylum